Bill Cosby & the Bible

Bill Cosby was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor last night, a much-deserved tribute for a true humorist in the Mark Twain tradition. Notice that Cosby doesn’t tell funny jokes. He tells funny stories. How did he learn how to tell them so well? He tells The Washington Post:

Where does the gift come from? For Bill Cosby, it begins in a housing project in North Philadelphia. He's 6, maybe 7 years old. He's sitting at the knee of his father's father, hoping for a quarter. But first he has to listen.

Samuel Russell Cosby Sr. read the Bible, and told his grandson the stories. Young William didn't exactly listen — "To this day, I don't know the names he said" — but he sure enough heard. The details of the stories, of course, weren't as important as the way his grandfather told them — his tone, his pace, the look on his face. It was how you told it, not what.

All of it stuck with the kid. A couple of decades later, when he was honing his own brilliant stories on a nightclub stage, Cosby would hear it again in his own voice.

"You learned storytelling from a man like this," Cosby says. He's on the phone from Los Angeles, and he's in career-reminiscence mode. He'll be in Washington on Monday night to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center. There's a big to-do in his honor, with celebrity presenters (Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Carl Reiner). It's basically a comedy Hall of Fame induction ceremony. So Cosby, 72, is reflecting.

"So [granddad] says, 'This is from the book of something, and then he'd start telling it. Telling it." Not preaching, just telling. "Somehow it pertained to my life, some wonderful lesson."

Little Cos absorbed it, but he was mostly focused on the quarter. Granddad kept his change in a sock, which he kept tucked into his belt. If the boy sat still and listened long enough, his grandfather would pull a coin from his sock-purse.

"He'd say, 'Take this quarter, put it in the bank. Save it. Don't go wasting it on ice cream!' "

So the boy diligently squirreled away Grandpa's quarters and then one day he . . .

"What?! Are you drunk?" Cosby sputters. "I went and got some ice cream! It was five cents a dip in those days. With a sugar cone."

Once again we see the influence of the Bible on a deep structure, cultural level. (Yes, I know it isn’t the purpose of the Bible to teach storytelling but to convey Law & Gospel! That’s not the point right now. Just as Luther’s translation of the Bible had the additional cultural effect of standardizing the German language, and just as the King James translation can be heard in the background of much of English and American literature, and just as the Bible’s portrayal of time as having a beginning, a turning point, and an end shaped our culture’s sense of time, its great stories and a grandpa’s impulse to tell them to his grandson shaped Bill Cosby’s comedy.)

What the public option would do

A health care reform proposal to set up a government health insurance program to compete with private companies is back in the mix. Economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson discusses how it would work, but offers this conclusion:

A favored public plan would probably doom today's private insurance. Although some congressional proposals limit enrollment eligibility in the public plan, pressures to liberalize would be overwhelming. Why should only some under-65 Americans enjoy lower premiums? In one study that assumed widespread eligibility, the Lewin Group estimated that 103 million people — half the number with private insurance — would switch to the public plan. Private insurance might become a specialty product.

Many would say: Whoopee! Get rid of the sinister insurers. Bring on a single-payer system. But if that's the agenda, why not debate it directly?

In the same issue of the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt, who is no conservative, suggests what a public option would do:

If, as advocates sometimes argue, a public plan operates without favoritism, it will be simply one more entrant in the marketplace. Like other companies, it will have marketing and administrative costs. In some markets served by few private plans, it could offer a useful alternative. But it won’t radically reduce costs.

If, as advocates argue at other times, the point is to insure sick people whom private companies, despite all regulatory efforts, find ways to shun, the public plan could offer a valuable safety net. But that wouldn’t save money.

And if, as seems likeliest — and as House legislation mandates — the plan uses government power to demand lower prices from hospitals and drug companies, those providers may lower quality or seek to make up the difference from private payers. Private companies would have to raise their rates, so more people would choose the public plan, so private rates would rise further — and we could end up with only the public option and no competition at all. Single-payer national health insurance may be the best outcome, but we should get there after an honest debate, not through the back door.

Why conservative Anglicans can’t just go to Rome

My colleague Dr. Roberta Bayer, professor of political theory here at Patrick Henry College is a conservative Anglican, an editor with the Prayer Book Society, which champions the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. She writes about how the Pope’s offer to let Anglicans come on over to Rome is not a legitimate option for genuine Anglicans:

The spirituality of the Book of Common Prayer is not the spirituality of the Counter-Reformation. The art and the architecture, the poetry and prose of the seventeenth century reflect some of the differences. The churches of the Anglican Reformation reflect classical order, the inward spirituality,of Christian vocation lived out in the family, the community, and the nation. The churches of the Counter-Reformation reflect an inward spirituality as well, but one which glories in the spiritual journey of the soul within the church. The Bernini statue of the Ecstacy of Teresa of Avila relates an approach to God which is very different from that found in the theology of the Reverend Jeremy Taylor, writing in the same period, or the poetry of George Herbert and John Donne. Roman spirituality calls for an ecstatic art and architecture, calling heaven down to earth, and the church up to heaven. Anglican spirituality, calls for columns and rational proportion, for reflection upon the right relation of our sinful nature to our final redemption, a proper relation of man to world, and the consideration of holy living in this world, and preparing ourselves for the the next.

The nineteenth century revival of a nostaligic neo-Gothic in both Roman and Anglican traditions, bringing with it a spirituality sometimes of sentiment, followed in the twentieth century by a new spirituality, charismatic and self-expressive, means that in the English speaking world, Christianity presents itself, in both Roman and Anglican churches, as more or less similar. Yet contemporary perceptions are deceptive. Counter-Reformation practices in the church of Rome are as remote to most peoples’ contemporary sensibilities as is the Book of Common Prayer. The proper recovery of both is salutary to the recovery of the fullness of Christian teaching in both traditions.

In the contemporary world, given our changed perceptions of prayer and worship, and the fact that few leaders, if any, are sympathetic to a historical understanding of their own tradition, people have forgotten the theological basis for the dispute about spiritual formation that drove the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Thus, the move to Rome seems easy: the liturgical rite in an Anglican parish looks much like the rite in a contemporary Roman parish. Rome appears attractive because it upholds orthodox Christian teaching on gay marriage and women clergy. But morality never was a fundamental or key point of difference between traditional Anglican teaching and that of Rome. It is only in the twentieth century that there have come to be divisions over moral truth for reasons having to do with the culture at large.

Benedict has been friendly to those willing to embrace the fullness of tradition in his own church by allowing for the older mass. But on behalf of those too few Anglicans who continue to embrace the theology and spirituality of Cranmer, Hooker, Ridley, Taylor, Donne and Herbert one can only ask of the Vatican how it is that catechetical, spiritual, and liturgical differences can truly be resolved? To move to Rome with this ordinariate may be to remain Anglican in name only. Indeed, it may have the further and unfortunate consequence of confusing perceptions about Anglicanism, and make the possibility of reviving the Anglican Way, its spiritual and liturgical patrimony even more remote. And one may in fact be moving from one instantiation of contemporary theology to another, having lost the riches of the past on the way.

This is an important point. Conservative Anglicanism, as defined in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, is NOT Anglo-Catholicism. Rather, it is a church of the Reformation.

Sweden skis down the slippery slope to gay marriage

Setting up legalized domestic partnerships for homosexual couples is a better option to gay marriage, isn’t it? And churches might bless gay commitments without buying into gay marriage, can’t they? Well, Sweden is turning domestic partnerships into marriages. And the state church of Sweden, Lutheran though it is, has voted to take the next step from gay blessings to gay weddings:

A majority of the Church of Sweden's general synod meeting in Uppsala decided on October 22 to allow same-sex weddings in church from November 1, six months after the state changed the law on marriage to encompass homosexual people.

Before the marriage law was changed, homosexual couples in Sweden could enter into registered partnerships, a possibility that has now been replaced by marriage. The Church of Sweden will now apply to the state to conduct legally recognized marriages under the new regulations.

Speaking to Swedish Radio, Bishop Martin Lind from Linköping who supported the general synod's decision noted that discussions that led to the vote had begun much earlier and led to the blessing of homosexual partnerships in Sweden some years ago.

"When we said yes to life-long homosexual love we said yes to the decisive part of it all. What is happening now is primarily a question of terminology: Can this also be called marriage?" he said.

Hacked and attacked

This blog was down for much of the weekend due to some hacker! I prefer to think that it was some automatic spammer that detected a vulnerability in some outdated software rather than some individual person acting out of malice or antagonism. Before too much mayhem could ensue, DreamHost, the company whose server hosts us, shut everything down.

Thanks to my former student Stewart Lundy for staying up until at least 1:42 a.m. in Sunday fixing everything, which included installing all kinds of updates and extra security features. If anything like this ever happens to you, or if you need someone to work on your blog or even your computer, let Stewart take care of it via his brand-new company Bulldog Technology.

I should also put in a plug for DreamHost, which has always handled my problems quickly and with great dispatch, e-mailing me back within minutes of my pleas for help. (If you want to use them for your own web hosting, click that link and enter the promo code “cranach” and I believe you’ll get some kind of deal. It’s only $5.95 a month, with lots of freebies.)

Anyway, I never thought a hacker would attack this blog, uncontroversial as we always are.

Artists on Obama

Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott reviews a book entitled Art for Obama: Designing Manifest Hope and the Campaign for Change. It’s based on a travelling exhibition featuring works by noted artists based on President Obama. Mr. Kennicott, who presents himself as reliably liberal, is nevertheless appalled at the results and is embarrassed at the spectacle of artists–who had been proclaiming themselves as outsiders and subversives–reducing themselves to sentimental, dewy-eyed propagandists:

There is something tremendously depressing about the recently published "Art for Obama," a survey of images and sculpture produced in support of Obama's 2008 campaign for president. The gloom sets in slowly, page after colorful page, slogan after inspiring slogan. It is a catalogue of celebratory art, of smiles and hope and change, and somehow, it leaves you with a hollow, panicky feeling in the gut. . . .

This is a wholesale embrace of the full trove of Americana, as if young American artists were never happy on the margins of American society, as if they have suddenly found the right moment to release their inner Norman Rockwell. It almost calls into question the long-standing assumption that artists in America are by necessity and choice outsiders. Perhaps they never really were. The artists included here feel more like insiders whose invitation got lost in the mail.

So, throughout the book, one can never be quite sure if the supposed anti-bourgeois orientation of artists still applies in the age of Obama. . . .

These are terrifying images, made by artists seemingly unaware of the fragile line that separates democratic enthusiasm from totalitarian mania. It’s too easy, however, to say that this naive collection of Obamamania amounts to any serious desire for fascism or authoritarian control, as the president’s critics will surely do. But it does show the emptiness of imagination in a group of artists who suddenly find themselves on the crest of a historical wave, unable to invent anything new, unable to articulate any sense of the moment beyond the observation that it is “all very inspiring and a lot of fun.”

Art of Obama


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